Jeffrey Archer once said that when he was three years old he wanted to be four. And when he was four he wanted to be prime minister. At Oxford, he earned a reputation for his intense drive. "Almost his first statement to me was: 'I want to be Minister of Sport. What's your ambition?'," says a former school friend.
Although he is phenomenally successful in the fields of politics and publishing, a series of mishaps and misjudgments may ultimately keep Lord Archer from achieving his larger goals. His life has always been something of a roller-coaster, however, and yet another upswing could be just around the corner.
Jeffrey Howard Archer was born on April 15, 1940, in the City of London maternity hospital to William Archer and his wife Lola, a journalist. Despite being dubbed "the Pune," in reference to his skin-and-bones appearance, the young Jeffrey became a star athlete and eventually reached the national schools championship for track.
After dropping out of the army, tending bar and spending some time in San Francisco, Jeffrey found himself back at school. Though never before a scholar, he gained admittance to Brasenose College, Oxford, to pursue a graduate diploma in education. Once there he thrived, even managing to persuade The Beatles to play a charity concert on campus.
In the summer of 1966 he married Mary Weeden, a fellow student at the university who was studying chemistry. After Oxford he landed a position as a professional fundraiser, and set out to become prime minister. At age 29, he became one of the youngest MPs in the history of the House of Commons, but his plans derailed in 1974 after a shady Canadian firm he'd invested heavily in went belly up. Penniless, he resigned from the House of Commons in the face of seemingly insurmountable debt.
To recoup his losses, he decided to become a best-selling novelist. "All I need to do that is a lot of paper and a lot of pencils," he told a friend. Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less, partly based on his own troubles, became an instant hit and helped pay off creditors. To date he has notched up sales of over 120 million books worldwide.
He soon became a darling of the Conservative Party, charming everyone from Margaret Thatcher to potential political donors, and in 1985 was appointed deputy chairman of the party, a non-paid but highly prestigious post.
His political career was once again placed in jeopardy, however, when in October 1986 a UK tabloid printed a story about him reportedly paying a prostitute to leave the country after he had allegedly been caught enjoying her services. Although he won the libel suit against the papers and emerged unscathed, he resigned from his position as deputy chairman citing "lack of judgment". He then launched himself into charity work, and was later given a peerage by then Prime Minister John Major for fundraising efforts he initiated to help the Kurds following the Gulf War.
Jeffrey then set his sights upon the post of elected Mayor of London. But when a friend who had provided Archer with an alibi in the prostitute case admitted he'd concocted his story, the would-be politician was forced to bow out of the campaign and found himself facing the Old Bailey.
Just a week after his beloved mother died during the judge's summing up, Lord Archer was found guilty on four counts of perjury and perverting the course of justice. He was sentenced to four years in prison in July 2001 but was released in early 2003.